On February 20, 1958, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter became operational, entering service with the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron. It was Lockheed's first supersonic fighter. While most of the research being done at the time was on swept wing aircraft, Lockheed produced an aircraft with straight, extremely thin wings. So thin, in fact, that a felt cap was placed over the wings to protect ground crews during servicing. Interestingly, the Starfighter bears a striking resemblance to the X-7 research missile Lockheed had flown in 1951. The X-7, used to test ramjet engines and missile guidance systems, reached a speed of Mach 4.

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Lockheed X-7 Missile

Initially, the F-104A was plagued with so many problems that the Air Force withdrew them from front line service. But improvements in the C model would correct many of those shortcomings. American fighter pilots had told famed Lockheed engineer and designer Kelly Johnson that they wanted a small, simple fighter with outstanding performance. Johnson delivered. The Starfighter was the first combat aircraft to sustain Mach 2 speeds. It was also the first plane to hold simultaneously both speed and altitude records, reaching 91,243 feet on May 8, 1958, then, eight days later, attaining a speed of 1,404.19 mph. In the following year, an F-104 reached an altitude of 103,396 ft. While the F-104 was not a complete success with the USAF, the export model F-104G/J was built under license by Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and Italy, with production of over 1000 aircraft.

F-104G of the Royal Netherlands Air Force

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General Electric M61 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon mounted inside a German F-104G

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